Sunday, September 3, 2023

We Are The West at 701 Santa Monica Blvd., 9-2-23 Concert Review

We Are The West performing "Sea Of Light"
Yesterday we all woke to the news of Jimmy Buffett’s death, something that cast a cloud over the day. But one thing that is certain to raise our spirits is seeing some live music, and last night We Are The West returned to their parking garage in Santa Monica. Yes, I think of it as their parking garage, since I’ve only ever been in there to see them perform. They’ve played more than a hundred concerts there, regularly turning what is normally a cold, heartless structure into a place of warmth and magic. Last night was garage show number 103. Usually part of the warmth is created by artwork which is put up on the walls behind the band, showcasing a different artist each time. However, last night the artist was unable to make it, so it was entirely up to the music to create that transformation. No problem. No problem at all. The DJ, Gerard Lollie, was playing some excellent songs as folks arrived, helping to set the right tone.

Steven Van Betten opened the show, taking the stage at 8:25 p.m. The first line of his first song was, “Sing me a song that you learned in heaven.” Yeah, it was one of those days when death seemed to be keeping a watchful eye. In the morning, my girlfriend and I had gone out for a late breakfast, using money from my dad, money that my mom found while going through his things. Not sure how happy our server was to be paid in mostly ones, but no matter. Steven Van Betten immediately had the audience’s full attention. “I’m playing mostly new songs tonight,” he said. Often when an artist says that, he or she means songs written in the last year or so. But Steven Van Betten apparently wrote most of the songs of his set in July, while traveling around the Pacific Northwest. May we all have such productive and fun months. It was a beautiful, captivating set. “Life goes on, but I don’t know how,” he sang toward the end of his set, and there was a relatively somber tone to much of his material. But then he wrapped things up with a funny song about going to the beach, which provided a wonderful release. I hope he records all these songs soon and releases them on a CD or record. He is definitely someone to keep an ear out for. His set ended at 8:57 p.m.

We Are The West took the stage at 9:20 p.m. Brett Hool welcomed everyone to the garage, telling the audience: “We shifted into a seasonal schedule. We used to be lunar.” And, yes, these parking garage shows (known as The Underground Series) used to occur every month, but since the one hundredth show last November, there has been one a season. And then, speaking of seasons, the band opened the show with “Summer,” a song that was the lead track on the 2021 album Only One Us. One of the many things I love about this band is the vocal work, and this is a song that really highlights their beautiful voices. The band at its core is the duo of Brett Hool on vocals and guitar and John Kibler on bass and vocals. For this first song, they were joined only by Mathias Kunzli on drums. “Summer” is a good choice for set opener, and it’s the song they opened with the last time I saw them, back in February. That was followed by “The Golden Shore,” the title track from the band’s 2018 album. John Kibler took out his bow for the beginning of this song. And Sylvain Carton joined the group on clarinet, and Paul Cox joined on keyboard, and they would remain for the rest of the set. I particularly enjoyed the clarinet work on this song. Sylvain Carton then switched to saxophone for “A New Haven,” the band delivering an excellent rendition. I love the way it built at the beginning, swelling. And Mathias Kunzli’s work on drums was fantastic.

Sylvain Carton switched back to clarinet for “Ah, Light!,” another song from Only One Us. They played several songs from that record last night, following “Ah, Light!” with “Unwind Your Mind,” this time with Sylvain on flute. And then the audience was treated to a new song, “I Feel Good Today,” which Brett mentioned is one the band has not yet recorded. I hope it finds a spot on their next album. It had a sweet, easygoing vibe at first, with some catchy elements, particularly on clarinet and keyboard, and then developed into a good jam. That was followed by “Good Luck (And All That Stuff),” with Sylvain on saxophone. Sylvain then switched to mandolin for “Only One Us,” a song that made me smile the moment it began. This was a particularly good rendition, another highlight of the set, and featured some nice work on keys. And that was followed by “Steps To Nowhere,” also from Only One Us, and then “Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty),” from The Golden Shore. For that one, John switched from upright bass to electric bass. And he remained on electric bass for the rest of the set. “Time Knows No Distance” is a relatively new song, one I first saw them perform at that special one hundredth garage show. They wished an audience member a happy birthday before wrapping up the night with “Hey God, I’m Alive!” The show ended at 10:25 p.m. The set was just over an hour, but felt shorter, everything moving at a relatively quick pace. I’m looking forward to the next garage show, and I hope these guys go back to their lunar cycle at some point. Everything is better when we can get a regular dose of this band’s magic and humanity.

Set List

  1. Summer
  2. The Golden Shore
  3. A New Haven
  4. Ah, Light!
  5. Unwind Your Mind
  6. I Feel Good Today
  7. Good Luck (And All That Stuff)
  8. Only One Us
  9. Steps To Nowhere
  10. Sea Of Light (Dirty Ditty)
  11. Time Knows No Distance
  12. Hey God, I’m Alive!

Here are a few photos from the night:

Steven Van Betten

"A New Haven"

"Only One Us"

"Only One Us"

"Hey God, I'm Alive!"

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